Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)


Clive Owen (Theo), Michael Caine (Jasper), Julianne Moore (Julian). Screenplay by Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Otsby and Alfonso Cuarón. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Rating: 15. Running time: 109 minutes.

How would we live if we knew that when we died, there would be nobody there to replace us? We only really care about ourselves and our friends and family, right? At least, that’s all we care about relative to the strength of our feelings towards the human race in general. And surely we would get over not being able to have children? Not according to Alfonso Cuarón, who seems convinced knowledge of global infertility would drive the world rapidly towards insanity. As his main character in Children of Men, Theo, puts it: ‘in 100 years from now there won’t be one sad fuck left to look at any of this; what keeps you going?’ It reminds me of a line from Dylan’s Desolation Row: ‘everybody is making love or else expecting rain.’ Rain is his word for disaster, and for Cuarón, in his dystopia, humans don’t just expect it; they also create it.

As the world descends into anarchy, the only chaotic but mildly controlled place left on earth is the island of Great Britain, where anti-immigrant sentiments and authoritarian police-heavy border controls means the country remains relatively stable, but it’s still pretty damn bad. The film opens to a shot of Theo standing drinking coffee on London’s Fleet Street. It’s 2027, but everything looks pretty similar. Those red double-decker buses still dominate the streets and the pavements still bustle with people. But now the air doesn’t seem quite as crisp and clear, and the buildings look worn and dirty. Then a shop explodes right in front of our eyes from what we soon learn is a regular terrorist attack, and we realise this is a world which we’d be happy to quickly exit.

That’s another thing that’s quite extraordinary about Children of Men. We watch for a while, and then all of a sudden, the sight of a human being dying doesn’t seem tragic in the slightest. It’s not just that everyone must live in a state of war and that’s not worthwhile. It’s also the fact that we start taking the completely irrational approach that they were going to die anyway, like this isn’t the case right now in the real world, regardless of the film’s infertility crisis. Perhaps death is easier to accept knowing nobody will long outlive you; only fear of not being part of the future is what frightens us about our inevitable demise.

It takes time to get to grips with just how harrowingly real and immensely powerful this film feels. Some scenes feel excessive, completely absurd. When Theo visits an abandoned school and a deer stumbles through its corridors, we wonder for a second why no children are there, then we remember the oldest person on earth is now just over eighteen years old. Humanity is literally waiting around for its inexplicable end. Until, that is, a pregnant girl turns up on the scene, and all of a sudden the film is injected with vast amounts of hope, as the challenge becomes getting her to the almost unknown and mythical Human Project, shielded from the British state which would no doubt destroy humanity’s last chance because of its immigrant ethnicity. The Human Project is a beacon of light; a group of scientists that might be able to solve the devastating problem.

This is bold, but I’m convinced it’s the truth: Children of Men is probably the most awe-inspiringly incredible film of the last decade, and just for its content such a proclamation would be sufficiently justified. When you add to that the style in which it is executed, evidenced most clearly in its litter of real-world and artistic references, its bold themes and in those absolutely outrageous, ridiculously long tracking shots, which almost make the film feel seamless, as if no editor was even employed… the film becomes a masterpiece; a race against time and gunfire to save the human race itself.

Then the ending, so perfectly subtle but unambiguous, telling all without showing anything, in a way Mr. Nolan would have benefited from using in his latest film Inception, for those of you which have seen both, and for those of you which haven’t and for whom I’m trying not to spoil any surprises. Quite simply, Children of Men is everything that cinema should aspire to be.

One Response to “Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)”

  1. 1 The Social Network: revisited, reemphasised. « jacob williamson | thoughts on film

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